My partner Tim’s family have a property in Upper Hermitage (in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia) and have always been well aware of having a Bushfire Survival Plan in place should a fire occur in the vicinity.
On Friday the 2nd of January we could see the plume of smoke over the hill from the Sampson Flat Fires but we never imagined what the next 36 hours would ensue. At 11pm that evening we received a call from Tim’s parents advising that a wind change had occurred and the fire was in danger of approaching the house.
Their Bushfire Survival Plan  has always been to stay and defend their property. They prepared their residence by:
- Clearing trees and foliage surrounding the house
- Installing a fire pump
- Ensuring they had easy access to large water tanks
- Regularly cleaning their gutters
- Ensuring grass near the house was maintained at a short length
- Ensuring protective equipment such as goggles, face masks, gloves, torches and appropriate clothing was available in an easily accessible area
- Ensuring everyone knew where equipment was stored and how to operate any tools
- Ensuring access to the property is large enough for fire trucks to enter.
As Tim is a fire-fighter for both the Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) and Country Fire Service (CFS) he was able to provide some advice on how to handle the situation. He advised that the radiant heat was intense, and therefore we were all clothed in long tops and pants made from natural fabrics such as cotton, denim or wool as synthetics can burn or melt.
From the time we arrived, six of us started preparing the house further, by:
- Blocking the drain pipes and filling the gutters with water
- Removing all flammable items such as chairs, shoe racks and doormats from the perimeter of the house
- Filling all sinks and bathtubs with water in case access to water and power to the property was shut off
- Spraying water on the roof of the house
- Filling water bottles
- Using a battery operated radio for regular updates.
We also remained proactive on the location of the fire to ensure we were all ready upon its attack on the property or for ember attack which can occur even when the fire is kilometres away.
As the sun rose, so did the heat. At approximately 7:30am we knew the fire was just across the road and it was soon about to hit us. As Tim assisted the Hermitage CFS crew on the perimeter, we consistently applied water to the roof of the house and shed and kept an eye on the fire approaching.
Within the next couple hours the fire had jumped and we were facing fire on the property. The fire was large and burning rapidly through trees on the edge of the property. As it was approaching the house we consistently kept water on the house and kept an eye on the direction of the fire which would move with each wind change.
Unfortunately we started to battle with fire from two opposite ends approaching the house, one side starting to come through the enclosure where three alpaca pets are kept. Luckily, with the skills from the team, the alpacas were saved by a few of our team fighting the fire and putting it out before it could advance any further in the enclosure.
However, the fire was still burning on both sides of the property with potential danger still high. At the same time as a few were fighting the fire on the side where the alpacas were, it was fiercely approaching further up the hill and on the opposite side of the house. The fire was approximately 10 metres away from the house and thankfully a Hermitage CFS truck arrived and helped battle the fire from approaching any further.
With embers falling heavily from the sky and fire all around it was hard to not fear the worst; however I was fully confident in the preparation and plan in defending the property. With the hard efforts from everyone who stayed and fought, neighbours and the Hermitage CFS, we managed to save the house, the alpacas and with no injury to all fighting the fire.
The late afternoon consisted of managing spot fires, preparing the house for any wind change encouraging the fire to return and cleaning up any embers we could see to avoid any further spot fires from breaking out. I could not have been more proud of the people I was with which included Tim’s family, partners and my own brother.
The most essential part of this process is having a Bushfire Survival Plan that everyone is aware of. This should be reviewed on an annual basis and ensure everyone is confident in executing it. My advice is: if you plan to leave, leave early and if you are to stay and defend, be well prepared.
For more information on what to do in a bushfire or becoming a CFS volunteer visit: http://www.cfs.sa.gov.au 
Below is a photo of what the property looks like now. The piece of unburnt ground at the top of the picture is where we were able to save the alpacas. As you can see, having a well organised plan as to how we would survive a bushfire enabled us to stay safe and successfully defend our property and livestock.
Do you have any other tips for being Bushfire Ready? Leave a comment below.